13 Dental Nightmares
Article By: Tony Timpone
According to medical industry statistics, 75 percent of Americans experience some form of odontophobia, i.e. fear of dentists. Can you blame us? Who doesn’t tremble at the thought of dental surgery, from the simple (filling a cavity) to the severe (root canal)? A regular check-up can illicit palpable dread in the bravest souls, a fact not lost on cinematic frightmakers digging for a good scare. So climb into Chiller’s dentist’s chair as The Friday 13 extracts 13 Dental Nightmares. (List arranged according to year of film’s release.)
1. Marathon Man (1976)
In this classic political thriller, Dustin Hoffman plays a graduate student who turns up at the wrong end of a dental probe wielded by escaped Nazi war criminal Laurence Olivier. “Is it safe?” asks Olivier over and over again, with the clueless Hoffman unable to supply any satisfying answer to ease the excruciating pain he endures from the Auschwitz sadist. When preview audiences objected to the brutal torture sequence, director John Schlesinger whittled the scene down. What’s left still packs a wallop! Olivier garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Hoffman’s Nazi nemesis and two years later nabbed a Best Actor nod for The Boys from Brazil, this time playing a Nazi hunter.
2. Demons (1985)
Lamberto Bava helmed this heavy metal horror hit from Italy (with a bitchin’ soundtrack), produced and co-written by gore guru Dario Argento. A group of moviegoers settles in to catch the latest slasher flick, when before they even finish their popcorn, the monsters on the screen break through the “fourth wall” to possess and massacre the trapped audience! In one wicked transformation scene (an ’80s monster movie staple), one of the demons begins exploding out from inside the body of a hapless lady. We witness in close-up creature teeth pushing out their human counterparts as the girl’s mouth morphs into a razor-sharp slaughter machine.
3. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Following the 1960 Roger Corman quickie and the 1980s Off-Broadway musical hit came this third iteration of the story of a schnook and his blood-drinking plant. In this musical extravaganza directed by Frank Oz of Muppets fame, Steve Martin co-stars as the lovably sadistic Orin Scrivello, DDS, the romantic rival of conflicted killer Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis). Wish all our dentists were as entertaining as Martin! (Equally worthy: the Jack Nicholson bit in the ’60s LSOH.
4. Freddy’s Nightmares (1988)
Who better to exploit our dental phobias than the preeminent dream stalker himself, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund)? The success of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies spawned this two-season TV spinoff. In the Tobe Hooper-directed pilot episode “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” a cop goes to the dentist for a tooth that he chipped during a Freddy-instigated driving mishap. After the nurse knocks him out with nitrous oxide, Freddy pops up and his trademark knife glove now boasts an assortment of mangling drills on each finger! The dream monster implants his weapon hand into the man’s mouth as shards of bone and blood splatter his face and land on his hat. Observing the resulting mess, Freddy delivers one of his typical bon mots: “Now there’s a face only a mother could love!”
5. The Dentist (1996)
Screen slashers come in all shapes and sizes, so it only seemed natural when a deadly dentist took center stage in his own motion picture. L.A. Law/Psych’s Corbin Bernsen stars as Dr. Alan Feinstone, who freaks out when he catches his wife canoodling with the pool guy. Worse fates than the long lines in the waiting room await Feinstone’s unlucky patients… Working from a screenplay by Re-Animator’s Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli (plus Charles Finch), Bernsen has a field day chewing the scenery in a role he would continue in a sequel two years later. Special makeup FX supervisor Anthony C. Ferrante (responsible for the ingenious oversized POV mouth props and other gory gags) later graduated to piloting the unstoppable Sharknado movies.
6. Blade (1998)
We all know how important fangs are to a vampire, a detail not lost on uppity bloodsucker Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorf). When he challenges Vampire Nation chief Dragonetti (the incomparable Udo Kier) for leadership, he devises a most cruel demise for his rival. He bloodily yanks Dragonetti’s incisors from his mouth and then holds him exposed to the rising sun. What a dynamic death scene for Kier, who has limned his share of movie villains.
7. Denti (2000)
This bizarre black comedy/drama from Italy concerns Antonio (Sergio Rubini), a man whose life falls apart because of his obsession with his twisted teeth. Writer/director Gabriele Salvatores will have you laughing and squirming as Denti’s hapless hero embarks on an almost surreal journey from dentist to dentist to fix his misshapen chompers. Though little-seen, Denti rates as a foreign fave worth biting into.
8. Oldboy (2003)
This bloody revenge tale from acclaimed South Korean director Chan-wook Park will put you off dentistry and carpentry tools for life. After Oh Dae-Su is inexplicably held prisoner for 15 years and then released, he goes on a killing spree to take out those who enslaved him. The grossest and most excruciating moment involves the prying side of a claw hammer and an open mouth. Our vengeance-obsessed hero removes tooth after tooth from a former culprit. This scene’s more painful to watch than a week of root canal.
9. Teeth (2007)
In this unique coming of age story, high school girl Dawn (a luminous Jess Weixler) discovers that the Vagina Dentata myth ain’t no myth. As Ali G would say, Dawn’s got a fanged punany. The boys looking for a little nooky pick the wrong girl in the chaste Dawn, as castration winds up being the order of the day. Dawn, meanwhile, wants nothing more than true love and happiness. Though Teeth packs plenty of uncomfortable shocks (especially for male audience, ahem, members), writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein also infuses his outlandish movie with social commentary, humor, warmth and satire.
10. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
In the aughties’ poster boy for extreme cinema, a mad surgeon (German actor Dieter Laser) abducts three strangers for some unwholesome experiments. See, the mad medico wants to stitch the trio together, mouth to anus, in an effort to create the crawling abomination of the title. Step B warrants inclusion on this list: the doc’s removing of his unwilling subjects’ center and lateral incisors and canine teeth from the upper and lower jaws. Writer/director Tom Six deemed the film’s operation as “100 percent medically accurate.” The morbidly warped Human Centipede amassed a fair number of fans, though few took to the sick Six’s even-more distasteful follow-ups.
11. Saw 3D (2010)
During the course of seven films (a reboot’s on the way!), the Saw franchise devised many of the most grueling torture tableaux this side of the Spanish Inquisition. Otherwise bereft of any original ideas, the seventh installment did come up with some squirm-inducing tooth terror. Faced with a dire challenge by Jigsaw and company, poor Bobby (Sean Patrick Flannery) is told that in order to free his captive wife, he must enter a code. The problem: that four-digit combination happens to be written on his two unseen upper wisdom teeth! Given a pair of pliers and no mirror or local anesthesia, Bobby must agonizingly wrench the molars out of his mouth. Damn, that hurts!
12. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
A remake of a 1973 TV movie, this Guillermo del Toro production sees young Bailee Madison trying to adjust to life at her estranged architect father’s spooky Gothic mansion. Said mansion hides a horde of gremlin-like creatures that live in the shadows. In a gruesome flashback sequence, the estate’s previous owner goes to town on a young woman’s mouth, painfully pulling her teeth to satisfy the demands of the covert critters.
13. Tusk (2014)
In director Kevin Smith’s jaw-dropping horror yarn, former Mac guy Justin Long portrays an unscrupulous podcaster who meets his match in eccentric lunatic Michael Parks (the scene stealer previously seen in Smith’s Red State). Tale-weaving Parks imprisons Long at his remote home and transforms his victim into a sea mammal! The pathetic human walrus, of course, now sports the most unwelcome addition of giant tusks, making future podcasts and lively discourse a bit of a challenge. Brush up on more toothy terrors by checking out Gremlins II: The New Batch (1990; parody of Marathon Man); the demonic Tooth Fairy of Darkness Falls (2003); William Friedkin’s paranoid Bug (2006); and assorted dental abuse in The Last House on the Left (1972), Deep Red (1975), Dead Alive (1992) and Hostel (2005). Share the pain on our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.
Tony Timpone has never endured a root canal, wisdom-tooth removal or even a cavity since grammar school. He dedicates this column to Dr. Paul Bernstein, DDS.